Researchers have developed a way to store data in the form of DNA, and reckon it will be a viable alternative to hard discs within ten years. The problem of what to do with the world's data is one that is yet to be completely solved. Expensive, bulky, electricity-sapping hard disks are one option, while magnetic tape is another – cheaper, but it degrades over time and you'd need a lot of it to handle the 3 zettabytes' worth of data that is estimated to be around these days.
Scientists at the European Bioinformatics Institute (EBI) think they might have come up with a viable third option: storing data in DNA-like strands. They have successfully created a way to keep MP3s, PDFs, text files and photos in the form of DNA which requires no power and should, they say, last for tens of thousands of years.
Unless you have 11,408 years going spare, you'll never make it through 100 million hours of HD video but that's about how much data you could store in a cup of DNA, just in case. “We already know that DNA is a robust way to store information because we can extract it from wooly mammoth bones, which date back tens of thousands of years, and make sense of it,” explains Nick Goldman of EMBL-EBI. “It's also incredibly small, dense and does not need any power for storage, so shipping and keeping it is easy.”
The downside is that this approach is insanely expensive for now – synthesising DNA from encoded information is a hugely intensive operation – but the researchers estimate that the DNA-storage option may come down in price enough for us mere mortals to invest our most precious data in within ten years.
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